15 women share advice for success and happiness in PR

To mark International Women’s Day, women of all stripes offer lessons for getting ahead in the workplace.


Regarding gender differences, PR has imbalances of population, power, and pay.

As much as 85 percent of the public relations sector in the United States is female, and that percentage will probably hold steady or even grow. A PR professor at one major university said nearly nine out of 10 students in his classes are women.

However, men in the industry earn more than their female counterparts on average, though the income gap has shrunk considerably. According to an infographic from PR Week, the average vice president of PR is female and earns six figures.

“Many don’t realize what a different world it was for women joining the workforce in the ’70s,” said Mary Deming Barber of The Barber Group in Anchorage, Alaska. “But we have come a long way from those ‘Mad Men’ days.”

It’s a good opportunity to mark such progress. Today is International Women’s Day, marking the 101st anniversary of the day men and women in Europe rallied for women’s rights to vote, work, and more.

“More than 100 years ago, women began to fight for the freedoms we have today,” said PR exec Gini Dietrich. “We’re lucky to be able to have a seat at the proverbial table and move our way up the corporate ladders. But there still are some things we can be doing to progress.”

PR Daily asked Dietrich, Barber, and other female PR practitioners what advice they would give to their female colleagues and competitors. Here’s what they had to say:

Gini Dietrich, founder and chief executive officer of Arment Dietrich:

“Be nice to one another. Women tend to be our own worst enemies. Rather than be catty, gossipy, and mean, work together, find common interests, and support one another.

“Learn the difference between business and personal. Men have this down yet we struggle with it. When things happen at work, they’re business. Don’t ever take it personally.

“There is no crying in PR. If you have to cry, go to the ladies room and shut yourself in a stall. We all have weak moments; just don’t let them show.”

Danya Proud, director of media relations at McDonald’s USA:

“Know your customers and know your audience. Don’t be afraid to take calculated risk. Change is often hard, but a necessity to stay relevant and keep your brand top of mind for consumers.

“That said, when big brands have been doing things a certain way for so long, change needs to be incremental. It has to be small steps, not wholesale changes.

“People often rush to the destination of where they want to be, without fully thinking through the journey of how to ultimately get there.

“Think of it as a constant state of evolution—like a book with multiple chapters. All the chapters have to flow and be sequenced, otherwise there’s no story.

“My boss, Heather Oldani said to me recently, ‘When you’re far enough along … the last 2 percent is always the hardest.’

“That rings true to me every time I come up against a hurdle.”

Abbi Whitaker, owner/president of The Abbi Agency:

“Balance. As women, we need to step back, evaluate our priorities and decide what is really important from both a business and a personal perspective. Ask yourself at the beginning of each day what the five most important things are that you need to do that day and do those first. And make sure they are not all business focused. A well-balanced outlook and life tends to lead to a stronger and more successful business.”

Jayme Soulati, president of Soulati Media:

“Use the gifts you’ve been given; I learned my smile was one, but didn’t know that out of the gate. Develop a thick skin, but don’t let the lessons roll off too quickly because these are teachable moments (yes, that cliché still has merit). Glom onto a mentor who is always interested in giving back (ahem, hi!). Don’t be shy; step out of your comfort zone. Lastly, never, ever be embarrassed to call yourself in PR. After 27 years, I’m still proud.”

Laurel Moffat, communications specialist at Southwest Airlines:

“If I could give two pieces of advice, the first would be to just be yourself—know who you are and own it. The workplace can sometimes feel like a competition; focus on one-upping yourself instead of others (men or women). When you take on a project, find a new and innovative way to approach it every time. You’ll learn more about whom you are and challenge yourself in the process.

“The second comes from my mom who reminds me that I need to stop saying sorry all the time. Why do we always apologize for everything? Only say sorry when you have truly made a major mistake.”

Donna Vincent Roa, managing partner and chief strategist for Vincent Roa Group:

“For success in the workplace, I have five maxims:

1. Never underestimate the power of initiative and innovation in playing the impossible;

2. Be known for your creativity;

3. Abandon fear, outdated ideas, bad bosses, and procrastination;

4. Wholeheartedly embrace the role of change agent and ‘why not’ thinking;

5. Always work to position communication as a key enterprise asset that buttresses business goals.

“Everything in life, and in the workplace, is about the choices we make and how we execute those choices. So, in practice: determine your passion, build meaningful relationships, and always deliver outstanding results. These, too, bring success.”

Stacey Acevero, social media community manager at Vocus/PR Web:

“Success in the workplace really comes when you work outside of your job description. Don’t be afraid to be creative and try new ideas or create something new—they’ll push you over the edge and get you recognized in your workplace, as well as in your industry.”

Dana Hughens, CEO of Clairemont Communications:

“The best advice I can give a young woman starting a career in PR is to surround herself with other supportive, professional women. One way to do that is to join a communications association. I started with the Public Relations Student Society of America, continued with the Public Relations Society of America and now PRSA’s Counselors Academy.”

Deirdre Breakenridge, CEO of Pure Performance Communications:

“One of my most important lessons for success as a senior executive and a woman in business is to find the perfect balance between boardroom strength (being tough when you need to be) and showing compassion for people (being in tune with your human side).

“When you can strike a balance, you will be appreciated for your strategic and critical thinking, and also for your ability to stay human and build great relationships with your employees and/or your peers.”

Dorothy Crenshaw, CEO of Crenshaw Communications:

“My advice to women would be largely the same as for men: Know your own strengths, and focus on any position or opportunity that takes advantage of them.

“Whatever you do, don’t get stagnant; keep learning throughout your career. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to take a calculated risk. Don’t fear failure. Realize that failure isn’t the worst thing that can happen; not living up to your potential—whatever that may be—takes a greater toll in the long run.”

Katrina Olson, visiting lecturer at the University of Illinois:

“When I send students off into the world with their newfound powers of persuasion, I challenge them to: Use your powers for good, not evil. Work for a company or a cause you believe in. Or, better yet, follow your passion.

“Maybe you always wanted to be a veterinarian, but you hated biology. Go to work for a humane society or an animal rights organization. Forty (or 60) hours is a long time to spend every week doing something you don’t believe in or at least enjoy.”

Mary Deming Barber, The Barber Group:

“Success has been a combination of hard work and a great support team. Know what you don’t know and then surround yourself with others who can teach you. Mentors are available many places but I’m biased toward PRSA’s College of Fellows. You’re matched with a senior professional who knows the ropes and can help long term—and will appreciate your help, too. It’s a two-way street today.”

Shonali Burke, principal at Shonali Burke Consulting and Adjunct Faculty at Johns Hopkins University:

“The most important thing you can remember about success is that you must define it for yourself. As women in the workplace, we’ll come across those who’ll try to intimidate us simply by trying to show us how powerful they are, or how ‘successful’ they are. Do not, for one moment, let these people—men and women included—get you down.

“Be true to yourself and realize that just because someone looks successful or powerful, doesn’t mean they really are. As long as you are giving it your all, doing everything you can, truly, honestly, deeply, you will be successful. It might not be someone else’s definition of success, but you’ll be ‘the best that you can be.’ And that is pretty darn good.

Carmella Lyman, president of Lyman PR:

“A positive attitude is very powerful. Thinking positively and believing in yourself, your colleagues and your work can directly impact your success.

“When the going gets tough at Lyman PR, I remind my team of the importance of ‘PMA’—positive mental attitude. It may sound funny, but it seemingly always nets positive results.

“Think about how much more we could get accomplished if we focused on ‘can’ versus ‘cannot.’ You reap what you sow.”

Rosanna Fiske, PR professor at Florida International University and 2011 chair and CEO of PRSA:

“As women, sometimes we try to sugarcoat language to not hurt someone’s feelings. I learned from my mentors that it’s more important to say exactly what you mean to say, than to try to be diplomatic and be misunderstood.

“This lesson has served me well, especially when dealing with crisis communications. People in general want respectful but honest communications. Sugarcoating a bad message doesn’t make it any sweeter.”

Is there an inspiring woman in your life? You can let that person know by sending her an e-card compliments of Oxfam America. Click here to learn more.

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Topics: PR

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